Here is information published in recent articles on the state of marathon running. In 1980, the median finishing time for male runners in United States marathons was 3 hours 32 minutes 17 seconds, a pace of about eight minutes per mile. In 2008, the median finishing time was 4:16, a pace of 9:46. For women, that time in 1980 was 4:03:39. Last year, it was 4:43:32.
I’ve had a number of discussions with runners (old and young) as well as coaches (older and younger) on this topic. I want to share my thoughts and welcome everyone else to comment.
I have run and raced since the “running boom” of the seventies; I have been a race director; and I coach all levels of runners and feel that I have a pretty balanced view of this whole phenomenon. I remember the days of walking up to a race paying $2-3; using a sign-in sheet (no waiver or registration forms); having no numbers to pin on; no age groups; knowing the course was an estimated distance that went from point A and returned; the distance was within half a mile of the stated race distance; no water stations; running in cotton shorts and t-shirts; and never knowing who was going to show up (local high school, college or even Boston Marathon winners/Olympians like Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter amongst others). There was no issue with use of headphones because my 8-track player couldn’t be removed from my car nor did it come with any headphone jack (Younger readers please research this to understand). Other than comparing your time to the previous year on that same course – most comparisons were pretty meaningless. The primary goal was to race others to the finish. Few ran just to finish.
I’ve witnessed the mushrooming growth of running, races, and running as a means of fund raising. As well I have seen from the start what was once the novelty of triathons, duathlons and the myriad of endurance events into something far beyond fads. These are very good things. It is good for our western lifestyles. It is good for charities. It is great for the sporting goods industry.
Expectations of race management nowadays would NEVER have been acceptable even 25 years ago. Results not only have to be accurate but they must be posted within moments of the finish – hard copy as well as online. Every mile marker is under scrutiny as the throngs of runners with GPSs critique their splits. Every water/aid station is expected have everything for everyone regardless of how long it takes for someone to pass. These expectations have lead to far superior race management, result accuracy, problem resolution as well as safer races.
Despite the improvement of these race environment elements all is not well in the racing world. More on that tomorrow.